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Talking About Forced Sex of Avatars = Crime?

Some people call it "virtual rape," but it strikes me as so far removed from the real thing that even including the adjective "virtual" leaves the phrase with a misleading connotation. In any case, Wired commentator Regina Lynn reports:

Last month, two Belgian publications reported that the Brussels police have begun an investigation into a citizen's allegations of rape — in Second Life....

Can anyone who speaks Dutch tell us more about these accounts (here and here)? I'd like to know whether they seem real or jokes (a possibility the Wired item flags), and also precisely what laws were allegedly violated.

I should note:

  1. One can easily imagine a game in which such behavior is cause for expulsion, or breach of a player's contract; but I take it that this wouldn't make it a criminal violation.

  2. The speech might also be punishable as a threat if it is reasonably perceived as a threat against the real person whose avatar is involved, for instance, if it appears that the speaker knows who the avatar's real-world user is, and in context the statements are reasonably understood are threatening the user. But this would be unlikely if there's no reason to think that the user's identity is known. (Note also that under U.S. law, it's possible that for the speech to be a threat there must also be evidence that the speaker intends it to be perceived as a threat; I can't speak to Belgian law.)

  3. Sufficiently explicit talk of sex might be seen as punishable pornography, depending on the country's laws. It's conceivable that it would even qualify as unprotected and criminally punishable obscenity in the U.S. (and the targeting of the statement to an unconsenting player might help support this position, if the "prurient interest" and "patent[] offensive[ness]" prongs are seen as considering the context of the speech as well as the content); but it would have to be pretty explicit for that to happen, I think.

In any event, I'm curious what exactly the legal theory is in the Belgian investigations, if there really are investigations and there really is a legal theory.

Thanks to John Rayburn for the pointer.

UPDATE: Many thanks to Dutch-speaking reader James Wallmann, who writes:

The two news items are virtually identical. Here are the translations:

First link:

Federal Computer Crime Unit Patrols in Second Life

The Brussels Public Prosecutor's Office has asked investigators of the Federal Computer Crime Unit to patrol in Second Life.

In the virtual world of the computer game[*] a personality was recently "raped." Following the virtual rape the Brussels police opened a file. "It is the intent to determine whether punishable acts have been committed," according to the federal police. The Public Prosecutor's Office was also alarmed. At the vice section acting officer Verlinden opened an informational investigation into the details.

* Note use of diminutive suffix (-etje), which I didn't translate, suggesting this is something trivial or for kids....

Second link:

Brussels Police to Patrol in Second Life

The Brussels Public Prosecutor's Office has asked investigators of the Federal Computer Crime Unit to patrol in Second Life. This according to De Morgen. In the virtual world of the computer game[*] a personality was recently "raped." Following the virtual rape the Brussels police opened a file. "It is the intent to determine whether punishable acts have been committed," according to the federal police. The Public Prosecutor's Office was also alarmed. At the vice section acting officer Verlinden opened an informational investigation into the details.

* Note use of diminutive suffix (-etje), which I didn't translate, suggesting this is something trivial or for kids.

Real or jokes? Your guess is as good as mine. I suspect that the anonymous reporter thinks this investigation is a bit silly, but perhaps just the facts are being reported. As you see from the translations, nothing is said about what laws may have been violated.

Three of the comments in the first link were amusing: "Will the perpetrator receive a virtual punishment?" and "For heaven's sake, what's going on here? Normally citizens have to move heaven and earth to get the police involved in something. Gentlemen, this is virtual! Perhaps the Public Prosecutor's Office doesn't know what this means." and "Ah, that lovely feeling you get when you hear that your tax dollars are being wisely spent." The commentators certainly took the article at face value, not as a joke.

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